ABOR awards WeGrad college preparedness program $500K grant

Expanded digital options will reach thousands more learners, families statewide

June 24, 2022

For nearly two decades, Arizona State University’s WeGrad program (formerly the American Dream Academy) has supported thousands of learners and their families in navigating their way to or through college.

As of this spring, the program will be set to serve even more learners through a $500,000 grant from the Arizona Board of Regents that will support WeGrad in curriculum expansion, technology enhancements, and marketing and promotion. The grant is part of TRIF, or the Technology and Research Initiative Fund, given to the three Arizona state universities for attainment and college readiness for K–12 students. A sign shows ASU's charter Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News Download Full Image

WeGrad offers bilingual (English and Spanish) programming geared toward middle and high school students and their families, and it is designed to increase the number of first-generation Arizona students who are ready to enroll and succeed at ASU.

The additional funds will allow the program to expand both its geographical and digital reach, according to Sharon Smith, vice president of outreach partnerships for Educational Outreach and Student Services and former dean of students for the Downtown Phoenix campus. 

“With this new funding, we'll be able to impact an additional 3,000 families over this year,“ she said. “We are very grateful to the Arizona Board of Regents for recognizing the good work that we've been doing for many years.” 

Since 2006, WeGrad has served more than 65,000 families and 250 schools across the state, and it has delivered more than 1,200 programs impacting about 180,000 students from underserved and under-resourced areas. Smith said the grant will focus on offering content in more Arizona middle schools and improve access to parents statewide with a variety of modalities, including a newly available all-virtual option. 

“Going to a digital format will allow us to increase our work in communities such as Yuma and in other rural and tribal communities around the state,” she said. “This really positions our families to engage with us in a  greater way, and that's important as we consider how diverse our state is becoming.” 

Currently, WeGrad offers two modalities: an eight-week classroom-based program and a hybrid version where parents attend the first and last weeks of the program in person with the remaining weeks offering digital, on-demand content. All options have been fully bilingual since the program’s inception, a fact that Smith is especially proud of. 

“The grant allows us to build on an incredible foundation, especially in the work we’ve been doing with Spanish-speaking families,” she said. 

The program’s success is measured by several indicators, including course participation and the percentage of participants who apply to ASU, are admitted and ultimately graduate. Smith and her team are tracking these metrics very carefully. 

“We know that there's an impact,” she said. “Everything that we're doing has a broader impact for postsecondary consideration.” 

The most crucial factor for first-generation student success, Smith said, is not just in early outreach, but including the entire family in the process.

“It's really looking at the family unit because we know the family unit plays a big role in a student’s decision to attend postsecondary institutions or not to attend them,” she said. 

Sometimes parents who complete WeGrad even make the decision to go to college and continue their own academic pursuits in higher education. For Smith, this may be her biggest point of pride as the daughter of parents from the U.S. territory of Saint Thomas.

“Like so many first-gen families, my mom didn't necessarily know how to sort of get me from point A to B,” she said. “Fortunately, I had terrific teachers and mentors and community members along the way who encouraged me. So between a family and the village, I made that journey to getting my undergraduate degree, my master's degree and my doctorate.” 

Smith said she is grateful for the opportunity to reach so many students who, like her, may not have made the leap into college without the community’s support.  

“That's tremendous when you think about a program like this where we've been able to affect outcomes for students in Arizona, but also affect family outcomes,” she said. “Our goal is to reach as many parts of the state as possible.”

Krista Hinz

Copy Writer, ASU Media Relations

New Intel speaker series at ASU connects lab and fab

Each event helps align Fulton engineering's academic, research activities with industry challenges, future opportunities

June 27, 2022

Dario Solis understands the potential of industry collaborations.

Solis helps to foster connections between the Ira. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University and technology companies in fields such as communications, transportation, manufacturing, semiconductors and the Internet of Things.  Cartoon illustration of tech students and workers amid abstract cog wheels. The Intel Masters Speaker Series connects expert industry researchers with ASU faculty and students to improve understanding across both organizations and to reveal opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration. Illustration by Dana Hernandez/ASU Download Full Image

“Industry collaboration is vital to the success of any research university,” says Solis, the business development director for the Business Engagement Catalyst in the Fulton Schools. “These relationships play an important role in scientific discovery and technology development, as well as academic achievement and workforce development.”

One recent example is a new series of topical presentations with Intel Corporation.

“It’s called the Intel Masters Speaker Series. Expert researchers from the company come to campus and discuss the focus of their work with a gathering of relevant ASU faculty and students,” Solis says. “These interactions enhance understanding between academic labs and industry fabs (fabrication sites), as well as reveal opportunities for collaboration that can yield mutual benefit.”

The new series launched at the end of February in the Memorial Union building on the university’s Tempe campus. Henning Braunisch, a principal engineer for Components Research at Intel, spoke about advanced microelectronic packaging, which he describes as the science of interfacing powerful, yet fragile, microchips with the outside world.

“Advanced microelectronic packaging now combines many chips in three dimensions, and it’s a key vector to enable greater functionality and performance,” he says. “So it’s an exciting time for related, highly interdisciplinary engineering and research.”

Braunisch says he enjoyed interacting with an audience that was eager to listen and ask questions demonstrating an excellent level of understanding. Among the enthusiastic attendees was Hongbin Yu, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, one of the seven Fulton Schools at ASU.

“I thought it was a great event. Henning presented truly state-of-the-art material on packaging, such as Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge,” Yu says. “EMIB is a breakthrough that allows dies (small blocks of semiconductor material) from different manufacturer foundries, or even different generations of technology, to be integrated together.”

Yu says this work at Intel is closely related to his own research in embedding passive components onto a semiconductor chip or into a microelectronic package to enable more efficient power delivery. He also says industry’s perpetual drive to miniaturize devices represents significant technological challenges, so the ability to connect with experts like Braunisch is extremely valuable to future achievement.

“We’ve already met again, at a technology conference, and we discussed possible collaboration on packaging work,” Yu says.

The second event of the Intel Masters Speaker Series was held in mid-April, once again at the Memorial Union building in Tempe. Mani Janakiram, senior director and senior artificial intelligence principal engineer for data and analytics at Intel, discussed the transition to autonomous supply chains in a presentation called "The Rise of Smart Machines.”

“All of us need to understand and embrace the AI and digitization that are revolutionizing our day-to-day lives. For example, as we learned during COVID, the supply chain is no longer a secondary consideration; it’s critical to everything we do,” Janakiram says. “So learning about the supply chain, AI and digital transformation will help students to launch their careers in a meaningful fashion and contribute to our society.”

According to Solis, the success of this new series reinforces key components of long-term collaboration between ASU and Intel. One of them is maintaining the alignment of Fulton Schools academic programs and research activities with the company’s current challenges and its plans for the future.

“Another component relates to appropriate scale. How much talent do we need to cultivate in each of many different fields to operate a stable and robust workforce pipeline for industry?” Solis says. “These speaker events foster regular, open exchanges among scientists, engineers, faculty and students that can help achieve these priorities for everyone’s benefit.”

Gary Werner

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering